Synopsis – Early in World War II, an inexperienced U.S. Navy captain must lead an Allied convoy being stalked by Nazi U-boat wolfpacks.
My Take – With his continued roll out of picking up roles which have him playing brave, honorable yet largely every man heroes, I think we all can agree that Hollywood legend Tom Hanks has earned himself the moniker of America’s Dad.
However what makes his latest release special is: 1) it sees Hanks take on rare screenwriting duties, a responsibility which he has only taken up three times before, his two directorial (That Thing You Do!, Larry Crowne) and an IMAX 3D documentary called Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon. A role he returned to after picking up a copy of author C. S. Forester‘s 1955 novel The Good Shepherd, a couple of years ago, because he liked the cover, Hanks fell under its spell, and eventually turned it into a screenplay that has become this Aaron Schneider directed film. 2) The Sony backed film has premiered directly on Apple TV+, after having been delayed from its intended June 12 theatrical release due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And considering the fact the film’s greatest asset is its sense of spectacle, it is unfortunate that the intentioned effect is somewhat diminished here outside a theater setting. Nevertheless, Tom Hanks continues to be a delight and here, with director Schneider, keeps the film compelling through detail and makes use of its short runtime by focusing on delivering tight-knit, sleek action rather than working on fleshing out its characters. It’s a solid wartime film that never dips in pace and is easy to enjoy.
Anyone who misses or underappreciated the theatrical experience should see this one.
Set during the early days of the United States’ involvement in World War II, the story follows Captain Ernie Krause (Tom Hanks), a career sailor, who has just been given his first command of USS Keeling, call signed Greyhound, a heavily armed destroyer, whose basic job is to convoy 37 Allied ships across the treacherous North Atlantic. With safe passage guaranteed only for the first and last parts of the crossing, Krause’s biggest task is to get everyone through the middle area known as The Black Pit, which is regularly monitored by the enemy.
With air support about 50 hours away, the Greyhound crew, which also includes Krause’s XO Charlie Cole (Stephen Graham), head chef Cleveland (Rob Morgan), among others, soon find themselves hotly pursued and taunted by a wolf pack of German U-boats (submarines). With his own set of doubts about his fitness to command the ship creeping up in his mind, as the young men following his orders all have more combat experience than he does, Krause is forced to battle his own concerns in order to make sure his men and the allied ships reach safely to their destination.
Indeed, the biggest success of the film is that it doesn’t waste a minute and sets the tone right from the first scene, as within minutes of the air support dropping off, the fleet comes under attack, and it becomes something of a survival piece with ticking clock until the air support resumes. Hank’s screenplay is, for the most part, all the action and none of the quiet in between. It takes place of a series of days, but it feels like the events take place in a much more compact timeline. It’s all a ploy to familiarize the viewer of the Keeling‘s tactics, man oeuvres and weapons, so, when the action picks up later on in the film, we don’t feel like we’re behind in knowing what’s going on. This works to a great extent. However, it does feel like Krause is served food every 15 minutes.
For a sophomore directorial effort, Aaron Schneider, gives us one of a hell of a ride, reminiscent of sub films like The Hunt for Red October, that’s anchored by a character that isn’t afraid to doubt his own decisions, and is played out with uncomfortable but mesmerizing realism.
Most of the dialogue here is repeated orders. When Krause orders a change in the direction of his ship’s rudder, it gets echoed down the line, as soldiers spring into action to make it happen. When he receives radar updates in return, they’re relayed through at least one middleman, with each person beginning to speak before the other has finished reporting. Something is always happening.
And of course, the action is fantastic; certainly some of the best naval battle sequences I have ever seen, with impressive use of effects and a superbly tense score from Blake Neely. This is also a rare war film that doesn’t focus on showing the enemy’s face, as it is a simple battle between machines controlled by humans, hence successfully in dehumanizing them. All you see of them are the submarines when they come up for air and a crackling voice that announces their intentions. This works in their favor because every time you see the top of a submarine, it manages to send chills down your spine.
Without a doubt, the film’s key ingredient is its star, Tom Hanks, as he is front and center of the entire piece and is absolutely superb as the God-fearing Commander who has to make some tough choices to survive the night(s), with no sleep or food and eventually very little ammunition while he keeps watch over his flock, increasingly aware that his more experienced crew are starting to question his every decision. It’s to Hanks’ credit and talent that Krause is a hero to root for. Other than the opening scene (which does add some weight to the protagonist), Krause is a seemingly kind man who barks orders and receives no push back. It’s the tough choices of war put onto him and Hanks’ skill that elevate Krause to more than just a paper-thin character.
However the film does falter in building a supporting cast around Hanks. Though veteran actors like Stephen Graham and Rob Morgan fill in the ranks, none of the characters besides Krause are on screen long enough to be more than vessels helping orders move along the line. Elizabeth Shue too is wasted in a thankless single shore-side role which was clearly meant to humanizing Krause. Among the smaller roles, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Karl Glusman, Tom Brittney and Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why) manage to get noticed. On the whole, ‘Greyhound’ is an intense wartime action thriller that makes for an earnest and thrilling ride.
Directed – Aaron Schneider
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 91 minutes